The real cost of fruit flies to Tasmania

Biosecurity Tasmania gains 20 new officers under Labor pledge


Horticulture
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Tasmanian producers count losses from fruit fly incursion as state Labor announces its biosecurity plan.

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Insurance might cover a producer against fire, flooding or theft, but not against fruit fly.

Turners Beach tomato producer Marcus Brandsema has been forced to send his fruit to mainland Australia for fumigation, and dump whatever would not withstand that process in the wake of Tasmania’s fruit fly incursion.

The Brandsemas are just one of Tasmania’s producers who have had to change their processes or dump stock in the past fortnight – in a process that has cost them “tens of thousands of dollars” so far.

“We have got insurance for business interruption, and it covers us for insurable events like storm, floods, fire, but not this,” Mr Brandsema said.

“We even thought about cutting the stems, because if we’re not picking fruit we’re not having to pay staff,” he said.

Instead, Mr Brandsema hopes the $2 million support package announced by both parties last week will bridge the gap and help him stem losses and keep paying staff.

“The package is tailored around maintaining business status quo as much as possible. Even though we’re sending produce to Victoria they’ll meet the gap, and that way we keep all our staff.”

Any produce that cannot be shipped to Melbourne is weighed before being disposed of and those costs reimbursed, Mr Brandsema said.

“It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare, but it’s what we have to do.”

Opposition Leader Rebecca White and opposition spokesman for primary industries Shane Broad. along with Braddon Labor MHR Justine Keay and federal opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon visited the Brandsema operation on Friday to announce Labor’s state biosecurity plan.

Under Labor’s plan, 20 new staff would be appointed to Biosecurity Tasmania over four years, funded by $3.7 million from state Labor and $2 million from federal Labor.

“The fruit fly emergency threatens to put at risk market access for the fruit industry and vegetables like tomatoes and capsicums,” Ms White said.

Dr Broad blamed the state government for “slashing” $1 million from Biosecurity Tasmania in its first budget, but could not say where the cuts were made.

“Biosecurity got a $1 million cut and was asked to adapt,” Dr Broad said.

“We’ve seen various organisations, like the TFGA, calling for reinvestment in biosecurity and that is falling on deaf ears. Being fruit fly free is key to our markets and it’s key to reducing costs,” he said.

A spokesperson for Primary Industries Minister, Jeremy Rockliff, said the biosecurity budget had not been cut.

“The government has invested a further $4.5 million in Biosecurity Tasmania, than when Labor-Greens were in government,” the spokesperson said.

In the 2013/14 budget, Biosecurity Tasmania’s funding was $20.8 million, which rose to $25.3 million in the 2017/18 budget, the spokesperson said.

However, the bigger issue for growers is what will happen in the future – and who will take responsibility for eradicating fruit fly.

“The work biosecurity has done with us has been good, but they need to be better resourced,” Mr Brandsema said.

The conversation that happens once this incursion is over is one Mr Brandsema intends to be part of.

“We’ve insulated against hail, frost, floods; we’ve got back up generators if we lose power. Everything about this business is mitigating risk, and then this happens. We need to be in a position to manage that.

“We need to have an assurance or protocol and be part of that process so that we know what we need to do,” he said.

The Examiner.

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